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Seal pup found in Riverside traffic circle released back into the wild

A seal pup found wandering a Riverhead traffic circle earlier this week was released back into the ocean on Friday morning. 

New York Marine Rescue Center volunteers carted the pup, a three-month-old gray seal, from a truck to the sands of Tiana Beach in Hampton Bays, using boards to direct him towards the ocean after his release. He played in the water before disappearing into the waves, hopefully to grow up and have babies of his own, said Maxine Montello, rescue program director at the marine center.

“Sometimes they don’t want to go right away, but they eventually go. And what you saw today was him playing in the waves. He hasn’t been in saltwater for a couple days so he was super excited to get back into that water and hopefully, he’ll have a good rest of his life,” she said. 

The pup was uninjured after his escapade into traffic on Sunday, officials said. Dubbed “Peconic” by his rescuers, the seal was perfectly healthy when released, according to Ms. Montello. Southampton Town police officers who aided in Peconic’s initial rescue were present at the release. 

Ms. Montello has said previously that it’s not uncommon for New York Marine Rescue Center to help out seals that wander too far inland, although this pup’s venture into a Riverhead traffic circle was more unusual. She said earlier this week that she believes he drifted over while foraging for alewives in the Peconic River. 

“This species is known to get into a little bit of trouble and so it doesn’t happen too often, but we usually have a couple of cases each year,” she said after Peconic’s release. She admitted she doesn’t know exactly why seals wander so far inland, but: “I think that they’re looking for a place to just haul out and rest, and they just keep on going. And I’m sure you know, they’re looking for a spot to hide and maybe, you know, a traffic circle is not ideal, but they usually find their way back.”

The marine center chose Tiana Beach for its access to the ocean, where, hopefully, Peconic will be able to migrate north with other seals this time of year. Ms. Montello said he’ll live to around 20 or 25 in the wild and may grow to nearly 900 pounds. 

Seals, although not endangered, are federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which requires people to stay at least 150 feet away. Stray seals should be reported to the New York Marine Rescue Center hotline at (631) 369-9829.